Bicopter Phone Case Might Be Hard To Pocket, But Delivers Autonomous Selfies

Remember that “PhoneDrone” scam from a while back? With two tiny motors and props that could barely lift a microdrone, it was pretty clearly a fake, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a pretty good idea. Good enough, in fact, that [Nick Rehm] came up with his own version of the flying phone case, which actually works pretty well.

In the debunking collaboration between [Mark Rober], [Peter Sripol], and the indispensable [Captain Disillusion], you’ll no doubt recall that after showing that the original video was just a CGI scam, they went on to build exactly what the video purported to do. But alas, the flying phone they came up with was manually controlled. While cool enough, [Nick Rehm], creator of dRehmFlight, can’t see such a thing without wanting to make it autonomous.

To that end, [Nick] came up with the DroneCase — a bicopter design that allows the phone to hang vertically. The two rotors are on a common axis and can swivel back and forth under control of two separate micro-servos; the combination of tilt rotors and differential thrust gives the craft full aerodynamic control. A modified version of dRehmFlight runs on a Teensy, while an IMU, a lidar module, and a PX4 optical flow sensor round out the sensor suite. The lidar and flow sensor both point down; the lidar is used to sense altitude, while the flow sensor, which is basically just the guts from an optical mouse, watches for translation in the X- and Y-axes.

After a substantial amount of tuning and tweaking, the DroneCase was ready for field tests. Check out the video below for the results. It’s actually quite stable, at least as long as the batteries last. It may not be as flexible as a legit drone, but then again it probably costs a lot less, and does the one thing it does quite well without any inputs from the user. Seems like a solid win to us.

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Clever Control Loop Makes This Spinning Drone Fault-Tolerant

Most multi-rotor aircraft are about as aerodynamic as a brick. Unless all its motors are turning and the control electronics are doing their thing, most UAVs are quickly destined to become UGVs, and generally in spectacular fashion. But by switching up things a bit, it’s possible to make a multi-rotor drone that keeps on flying even without two-thirds of its motors running.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on [Nick Rehm]’s cool spinning drone project, which basically eschews a rigid airframe for a set of three airfoils joined to a central hub. The collective pitch of the blades can be controlled via a servo in the hub, and the whole thing can be made to rotate and provide lift thanks to the thrust of tip-mounted motors and props. We’ve seen [Nick] manage to get this contraption airborne, and hovering is pretty straightforward. The video below covers the next step: getting pitch, roll, and yaw control over the spinning blades of doom.

The problem isn’t trivial. First off, [Nick] had to decide what the front of a spinning aircraft even means. Through the clever uses of LED strips mounted to the airfoils and some POV magic, he was able to visually indicate a reference axis. From there he was able to come up with a scheme to vary the power to each motor as it moves relative to the reference axis, modulating it in either a sine or cosine function to achieve roll and pitch control. This basically imitates the cyclic pitch control of a classic helicopter — a sort of virtual swashplate.

The results of all this are impressive, if a bit terrifying. [Nick] clearly has control of the aircraft even though it’s spinning at 250 RPM, but even cooler is the bit where he kills first one then two motors. It struggles, but it’s still controllable enough for a bumpy but safe landing.

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A Drone For The Rest Of Us

As anyone who’s spent Christmas morning trying to shake a quadcopter out of a tree can attest, controlling these fast moving RC vehicles can be tricky and require a bit of practice to master. [Erik] wanted to simplify this a little bit so his children and friends could race with him, and the end result is a drone that only needs two inputs to fly.

The results of his experimentation with simplifying the controls resulted in a “speeder” type drone which attempts to keep a certain distance off of the ground on its own thanks to an extremely fast time-of-flight sensor. The pilot is then left to control the throttle and the steering only, meaning that [Erik] can use pistol-style RC controllers for these machines. They have some similarities to a quadcopter, but since they need to stay level in flight they also have a fifth propeller on the back, similar to an airboat. This allows for a totally separate thrust control than would normally be available on a quadcopter.

The resulting vehicle is immediately intuitive to fly, behaving more like an RC car than a quadcopter. This also required quite a bit of processing power to compute the proper roll and yaw from a single steering input, but after many prototypes the result is impressive, especially since it was also built to use FPV as a means of control. One of the videos below demonstrates this video, and looks extremely fun to fly, and we wouldn’t mind seeing a race with these types of speeders much like we saw in the past with a group of pod-racing quadrotors.

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Unconventional Drone Uses Gas Thrusters For Control

You’ve got to hand it to [Tom Stanton] – he really thinks outside the box. And potentially outside the atmosphere, to wit: we present his reaction control gas thruster-controlled drone.

Before anyone gets too excited, [Tom] isn’t building drones for use in a vacuum, although we can certainly see a use case for such devices. This is more of a hybrid affair, with counter-rotating props mounted in a centrally located duct providing the lift and the yaw control. Flanking that is a triangular frame supporting three two-liter soda bottle air reservoirs, each of which supplies a down-firing nozzle at each apex of the triangle. Solenoid valves control the flow of compressed air from the bottles to the nozzles, providing thrust to stabilize the roll and pitch axes. As there aren’t many off-the-shelf flight control systems set up for reaction control, [Tom] had to improvise thruster control; an Arduino watches the throttle signals normally sent to a drone’s motors and fires the solenoids when they get to a preset threshold. It took some tuning, but [Tom] was eventually able to get a stable, untethered hover. And he’s right – the RCS jets do sound amazing when they’re firing, as long as the main motors are off.

This looks as though it has a lot of potential, and we’d love to see it developed more. It reminds us a bit of this ducted-prop drone, another great example of stretching conventional drone control concepts to the limit.

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Microcontroller And IMU Team Up For Simple Flight Sim Controls

Classes are over at Cornell, and that means one thing: the students in [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller design course have submitted their final projects, many of which, like this flight control system for Google Earth’s flight simulator, find their way to the Hackaday tips line.

We actually got this tip several days ago, but since it revealed to us the previously unknown fact that Google Earth has a flight simulator mode, we’ve been somewhat distracted. Normally controlled by mouse and keyboard, [Sheila Balu] decided to give the sim a full set of flight controls to make it more realistic. The controls consist of a joystick with throttle, rudder pedals, and a small control panel with random switches. The whole thing is built of cardboard to keep costs down and to make the system easy to replicate. Interestingly, the joystick does not have the usual gimbals-mounted potentiometers to detect pitch and roll; rather, an IMU mounted on the top of the stick provides data on the stick position. All the controls talk to a PIC32, which sends the inputs over a serial cable to a Python script on the PC running Google Earth; the script simulates the mouse and keyboard commands needed to fly the sim. The video below shows [Sheila] taking an F-16 out for a spin, but despite being a pilot herself since age 16, she was curiously unable to land the fighter jet safely in a suburban neighborhood.

[Bruce]’s course looks like a blast, and [Sheila] clearly enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to the project dump, which last year included this billy-goat balancing Stewart platform, and a robotic ice cream topping applicator.

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Cardboard Framed Tricopter

Talk about reducing the costs of a build, this tricopter uses cardboard as a frame and has one less motor than its quadcopter relatives. There are almost no details other than those shared in the video after the break so we’re just going to guess based on what we see (feel free to share your own insight in the comments).

The smooth curves of this integrated landing pad makes us thing the frame was cut either with a CNC device or a utility-knife wielding ninja. Two of the three motor supports look just like what is shown above, but the third has a hinged mounting bracket attached to a servo motor. This way the propeller can be tilted around an axis running parallel to the support arm. We’d bet this feature is mainly for adjusting the yaw of the aircraft.

The video comments mention that this can hover when the throttle is at 45%, showing that there’s a lot lift available when needed. That is until you really weigh it down by adding plastic cages around the propellers. It’s kind of neat to see the thing ‘sticking’ to the ceiling at the end of that clip by driving the throttle wide open and using the cages as top-sided landing gear.

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